A Museum of Waxwings

December 12, 2018

Cedar Waxwing

I was surprised to find out that a group of Cedar Waxwings is called a ‘museum of waxwings’. They are also referred to as an ‘ear-full’ of waxwings’!  However, in all my digging around for answers,  I was not able to find anything at all about WHY they were given these unusual group names.

On today’s walk through our nearby woods, I was fortunate enough to actually see a ‘museum of waxwings’ –but I cannot say that I got an ‘ear-full’. Oftentimes, I am alerted to a bird’s presence by its song, but I heard nothing. According to one online source,  waxwings don’t really have a true song, but they do have high pitched sounds. “The two common calls of these birds include very high-pitched whistles and buzzy trills about a half second long often represented as see or sree.” I may have missed the ‘ear-full’ of waxwings today because I have a high pitched hearing loss!

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Cedar_Waxwing/sounds

What alerted me to their presence, though, was movement. They were flitting about in a nearby tree gobbling down little red berries as fast as they could.  Waxwings love fruit!! They eat berries and sugary fruits all year round, including the berries of the dogwood, serviceberry, cedar, juniper, hawthorn, and winterberry trees. Its fondness for the small seed cones of the eastern red cedar gave the cedar waxwing its name (seed cones are…” waxy-fleshy, sweet-tasting, and resinous”.) Sometimes waxwings will eat fruit that is overripe and has become fermented causing them to become intoxicated—which can prove fatal, either from the alcohol itself or from flying into windows while intoxicated!  Also, according to one online source, these birds will act cooperatively in order to ‘imbibe’!   “When the end of a twig holds a supply of berries that only one bird at a time can reach, members of a flock may line up along the twig and pass berries beak to beak down the line so that each bird gets a chance to eat.” I would love to see that!!

As anyone who has ever seen a cedar waxwing can attest, they are an exceptionally pretty bird. I particularly love the following description: “Their markings are a silky, shiny collection of brown, gray, and lemon-yellow, accented with a subdued crest, rakish black mask, and brilliant red wax droplets on the wing feathers.”  The name “waxwing” refers to these red, wax-like drops on the tips of their wings that are the result of a diet based on berries rich in red pigments. The number of wax tips and their size increase as the bird gets older.

What a lovely visit to the ‘museum of waxwings’ I had today!

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